If you mention ‘cookery courses’ in polite conversation, quite often the virtues of nouvelle cuisine are extolled or one instantly aspires to globe-trotting celebrity chefs who bring back recipes from around the world to treat the British public.
However, it may come as a surprise to many of you that back in the day (we are talking over half a millennia) British food used to be revered on the continent. 600 years hence, and the Italians were crazy for our cheese, which is thought to have been traded on the continent on the back of our wool exports.
A life in the Day
One food historian trying very much to revive past cooking traditions is Ivan Day, who runs cookery courses from his farmhouse in the Lake District. With over one thousand culinary items collected from centuries past, and only those required by health and safety from this one, such as a digital thermometer to check that the meat is thoroughly roasted, a cookery class here is a step back in time. Not a pair of white gloves in site!
It is definitely not a museum, however. As Ivan explains, museums store artefacts in a dead way; everything here gets used, from clockwork spitjacks to roast the meat before an open fireplace to sugar moulds popular in the 19th century to create cake decorations, supposedly the inspiration for the famous blue and white Wedgwood pattern.
Traditional Cooking Methods
But the course dates back further as Ivan’s explorations into forgotten UK cooking heritage transports us to the 16th century. At one time or another, name any of the last five centuries and Ivan will tell you, they have all been a personal favourite of his. What keeps this cooking course fresh, however, is the host’s constant self-learning. Our culinary evolution is a genuine passion for him; he rates the 18th century kitchen as one of the most sophisticated periods ever enjoyed by UK cuisine, whereas the 19th century produced ‘spectacular’ food.
Old meats new
No one reads the old books any more, of which Ivan has thousands, including handwritten notes and one farmer’s wife recipe book dating to 1830’s which was never published but is packed with recipes and processes which give us a real insight into who we were, compared to who we are. Of course, HSE is at the heart of many of today’s cooking methods and the utensils used described in cook books from days of yore, even if still manufactured, would be unlikely to pass such stringent tests.
Ivan is a genuine food archaeologist, but more; from his farmhouse, he is the last mutton ham curer in Cumbria. This is one item he’d love to see back on the menu having had a 200-year absence. From the Herdwick sheep, the breed used back then, this original recipe only takes 16 days to cure, and one afternoon to smoke.
If you’d like to learn to cook as in years gone by, few places offer more genuine opportunities than this Historic Kitchen.